Brazil - BRAZZIL - Evaristo Arns Leaves, Claudio Hummes Gets in - Brazilian Catholic Church - May 1998

A Rebel's
End of
the Road

Don Paulo Evaristo Arns is out of the São Paulo archidiocese. It is the end of an era.

The Catholic megacommunity of São Paulo (more than 6 million souls and over 250 parishes), the largest bishopric in Brazil, has a new pastor. He is Don Cláudio Hummes, 63, who was chosen by Pope John Paul II to replace cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns, 77, an extremely soft spoken and gentle Franciscan, but a very opinionated one, who has become a mythic figure doing battle with the generals of the Brazilian dictatorship (1964-1985) and the Vatican's conservative hierarchy starting with His Holiness the Pope.

Together with Bishop Pedro Casaldáliga from São Félix do Araguaia in the Amazon he has led for two decades the progressive wing of the Brazilian Catholic Church. Don Arns leaves his post without making his own successor. Archbishop Hummes didn't make the list of eight names he had presented to the Vatican in response to a request from the Holy See.

Despite reports showing Arns and Hummes in two political opposing fields, both bishops have more in common than their religious order (Franciscan), and being born in the South of the country from German parents.

Don Hummes was born on August 8, 1934 in Montenegro, state of Rio Grande do Sul, in a large family with 14 siblings. He was ordained priest in 1958 and became bishop in 1975. He is an expert in ecumenism and has a Ph.D. in Philosophy.

In an interview with conservative daily O Estado de S. Paulo, soon after his nomination was made public, archbishop Hummes sent a message to Paulista Catholics: "Pray for me and don't look at me with any kind of prejudice because I intend to be the bishop of every one."

Don Hummes points to "immense poverty" as the biggest challenge he expects to face in São Paulo. He also talks about a change in the way the Catholic Church does business, in "new manners of acting and talking to the post-modern populations." He stresses that all laic movement should be encouraged including the booming Catholic Charismatic Renewal and the left-leaning social-aware Comunidades Eclesiais de Base (Grassroots Ecclesiastical Communities), which were the apple of the eye of his predecessor.

To those who ask about his political change from socially engaged at the start of his work as a bishop to a more spiritual and conservative approach, the new archbishop says he is adapting himself to the times. "I don't feel unfaithful to myself," he declared. "What has changed," he told O Estado , "is the political conjuncture, our kind of analysis, our type of response."

As a bishop in Santo André, in the greater São Paulo ABCD, where he worked from May 1975 to July 1996, before being transferred to Fortaleza, capital of the northeastern state of Ceará, he opposed the military regime and backed workers strikes. He had a special role in the 1978 metalworkers' strike, which was led by Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who was a runner-up in the last two presidential races. Don Cláudio even allowed Lula da Silva to make political speeches during his masses.

When the leadership of FIESP (Federação das Indústrias do Estado de São Paulo—São Paulo State Industries Federation) asked him to intermediate a strike negotiation with workers he adamantly refused, arguing: "The church cannot have the role of mediator because it is firmly behind one side, that of the workers."

"He was spectacular, he was our support," recalls Jair Meneguelli, House representative from the PT (Partido dos Trabalhadores—Workers Party) and former president of CUT (Central Única dos Trabalhadores—Unified Workers' Central).

"Don Cláudio has a beautiful character," declared Lula upon knowing about the Pope's selection. "I am very happy with his choice. He was extraordinary in every respect. He entirely supported our families and workers."

The archbishop's short stay in Fortaleza— he took the place of liberal Don Aloísio Lorscheider, who was sent to Aparecida do Norte, a kind of Catholic Gulag— was not without conflict with the more progressive clergy. A group of priests even signed an open letter criticizing his work. Don Arns leaves in São Paulo a large contingent of priests tuned with his more socially aggressive methods and some fear that new shocks will come.

He has been thought as a moderate since the 1995 CNBB (Conferência Nacional dos Bispos do Brasil—National Conference of Brazilian Bishops). Responsible for the Family Pastoral Work he helped organize Pope John Paul II recent visit to Rio. He also got closer to Rio's conservative cardinal Don Eugênio de Araújo Salles, one of the most powerful prelates in Brazil. Salles turned 75 in 1995. One year older than Don Paulo he also presented his resignation to the Pope, but there is no sign that John Paul II is looking for someone to substitute him.

During the '70s Don Hummes was considered a member of the progressive wing of the Church, but his choice by the pope was being celebrated by the more conservative clergy. Don Cláudio himself avoids labels telling that he is a pastor who follows the Pope's directives. Renowned Dominican friar Betto, who worked closely with Don Hummes and who knew first-hand the prisons and methods of the military regime, believes that the new cardinal hasn't changed and that people who think differently are in for a surprise. To call him today a conservative is an injustice, says Frei Betto, one of the leaders of the religious left: "This is an unfair label. It wasn't he who changed, but the circumstances." 

Frei Betto should know. Despite all the pressure against him since 1978 he was maintained until today as head of the Pastoral Operária (Workers Pastoral Program) in the ABCD region with total backing from Don Hummes. "There is much more in common between Don Cláudio and Don Paulo than our vain philosophy let us believe," says Frei Betto, adding: "I am willing to make a bet. He always had lots of affection for Lula. I will even bet that he voted for Lula."

The new archbishop believes that social problems in São Paulo have worsened considerably since the '70s. While workers fought for better salaries two decades ago, he points out, today they are striving to just get a job. He faults the neoliberalism adopted by the President Fernando Henrique Cardoso administration for the country's rampant unemployment. And he defends the Movimento dos Sem Terra (The Landless Movement), arguing that people should be encouraged to organize themselves to defend their rights. He also seems to approve land invasions—an action often taken by the landless—when he reminds that the Church defends private property, but "with social responsibility."

Says the new archbishop: "Church's primary mission is religious. It is to bring people Christ's teachings. To accept Christ, however, has a social consequence because He preached love of the neighbor. Who adheres to Christ is invited to help and to share with everybody and most of all with the poor and the oppressed who are victims of the social organization. Private property is defended by the Church as a secondary right. The primary right is the universal destination of the goods, meaning that the earthly goods are for all."

Don Hummes believes that the tendency is for polarization between conservative and progressive, charismatic and grassroots communities to dissolve. "The Church is a unity and diversity at the same time," he argues.

Brazil / Organic personal skin care wholesale / Brazil